Coming off the initial day of talks between Russia and NATO wherein the US informed the Kremlin side that its central security demands are a "a non-starter", the continuing dialogue which moved to Brussels Wednesday began with little expectation for any breakthroughs.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko went to NATO headquarters in Brussels where he was received by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Despite new Russian military live-fire exercises which took place near the border on Tuesday, the Kremlin has reiterated that there are no plans for any offensive on Ukraine.
Speaking from Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tried to assure the good faith nature of its engaging with NATO this week. "We are not negotiating from a position of strength; there is not, and nor can there be, any place for ultimatums here," he said as the talks in Brussels were initiated Wednesday. This amid continued accusations that its troop build-up is all about forcing NATO to the table and forcing leverage to protect Moscow's red lines.
But he underscored that Russia must see that the West is taking its demands seriously and implementing positive action, according to Reuters. Also according to Reuters, the Russian side again emphasized its central request of no further NATO eastward expansion, which it's further seeking written security guarantees to ensure:
Grushko, a former Russian ambassador to NATO, has said Russia wants to avoid confrontation. His direct colleague Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov - who held talks with the United States in Geneva but who was not in Brussels on Wednesday - has said Ukraine must never be allowed to join NATO.
NATO has no immediate plans to admit Ukraine, but says Russia cannot dictate its relations with other sovereign states.
NATO diplomats, meanwhile, have sought to present this week's talks as not a "negotiation" but as an initial "dialogue" and have said they would be deemed successful if they simply led to more open talks. This while calling the draft proposals submitted by Moscow thus far "unacceptable".
The West is still sticking firmly by its charge that Moscow precipitated the current standoff and crisis over Ukraine, which has seen Washington prepare far-reaching sanctions in the event of any military offensive. Concerning Tuesday's drills, Moscow Times details:
The Defense Ministry said 3,000 troops and 300 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles have been deployed across three western Russian regions bordering Ukraine and one bordering Belarus.
The military’s Western Military District said the motorized rifle drills will involve T-72B3 main battle tanks and BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles. The drills stretch across western Russia’s Voronezh, Belgorod, Bryansk and Smolensk regions.
Jens Stoltenberg is expected to brief reporters after exiting Wednesday's negotiations in Brussels. Live feed:
"Let's be clear: Russian actions have precipitated this crisis. We are committed to using diplomacy to de-escalate the situation," U.S. envoy to NATO Julianne Smith said at a press conference Tuesday night. She said of the alleged some 100,000 Russian troops mustered near the Ukrainian border: "We want to see ... Russia pulling back its forces."